California high court orders review of Scott Peterson’s 2004 murder convictions

SAN FRANCISCO — Scott Peterson, the California man convicted in 2004 of the murders of his pregnant wife and their unborn son, has been granted a review of his conviction based on a juror’s failure to disclose that she’d once been the victim of a crime while pregnant.

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday sent Peterson’s case back to San Mateo County Superior Court, where a judge will determine if the former fertilizer salesman is entitled to a new trial. Peterson, now 47, is incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison in the killings of Laci Peterson, 27, and the couple’s unborn son, Conner, who went missing from the couple’s Modesto home on Christmas Eve 2002.

>> Related story: Scott Peterson’s death sentence overturned by California Supreme Court

Their remains washed up on the shore of San Francisco Bay, a couple of miles from where Peterson said he’d been fishing that day, nearly four months later. Conner’s umbilical cord was still attached to his body.

The latest twist in Peterson’s case comes less than two months after the state Supreme Court overturned his death sentence, citing “a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection that, under long-standing United States Supreme Court precedent, undermined Peterson’s right to an impartial jury at the penalty phase.”

The court determined that 13 prospective jurors had wrongfully been dismissed based on their opposition to the death penalty.

Read the Aug. 24 court ruling overturning Scott Peterson’s death sentence below.

In Wednesday’s order, the high court determined that Juror No. 7, Richelle Nice, “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

Peterson’s habeas corpus petition, which introduced evidence the defense alleges the trial judge did not have in 2004, argued 19 separate claims. It was the defense’s very first claim that caused the Supreme Court to demand a review of his case.

“Habeas investigation has revealed that before the prosecution had called even a single witness, Scott’s right to a fair trial had been compromised: a stealth juror had lied her way onto the jury,” the petition begins.

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According to Peterson’s lawyers, Nice, who was initially seated as an alternate juror but replaced a departing juror during deliberations, failed to tell the court during voir dire that, four years before the trial, she had been the victim of a crime. She also denied ever having involvement in a lawsuit or participating in a trial as either a party or a witness.

All her answers were false, the defense argued.

“In fact, when Ms. Nice was four and one-half months pregnant in November of 2000, she and her unborn baby were threatened, assaulted and stalked by her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend,” the petition states.

Nice — who, with several other jurors, would later write a book about the Peterson jury’s experiences — sued the woman who had threatened her and testified against the woman at trial, resulting in a criminal conviction and a three-year restraining order, the defense petition states.

“Juror Nice withheld all this evidence when directly asked during jury selection, even though such information was directly material to the capital trial where Scott was charged with killing of his unborn child,” the document states.

Peterson’s attorneys argued that Nice, still angry over the perceived threat to her own child, sought to get on the jury because she wanted to see their client punished for the death of his son. As evidence of their claim, they pointed to jury deliberations, during which 10 of the jurors had decided against convicting Peterson of first-degree murder in the fetus’ death.

Nice was one of two holdouts for first-degree murder.

Read Scott Peterson’s habeas corpus petition below.

“As Ms. Nice later described her role as a holdout, she asked her fellow-jurors, ‘How can you not kill the baby,’ pointing to her own stomach,” the petition states. "She pleaded to her fellow-jurors, ‘That was no fetus, that was a child.’

“And after trial, Ms. Nice took the extraordinary step of writing numerous letters to the man she helped put on death row, focusing repeatedly on what she believed he had done to his unborn child.”

Nice declined to comment on the issue Wednesday, according to the Modesto Bee. In a 2017 interview with the newspaper, Nice said she did not lie to get on Peterson’s jury and accused his defense team of blowing her prior situation out of proportion.

“(The ex-girlfriend) never threatened to kill me, to kill my unborn child, to beat me up,” Nice said, according to the Bee. “When I filled out that questionnaire, my situation never came into my mind because it was not similar at all.”

Peterson was ultimately convicted of second-degree murder in Conner’s death. He was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Laci, who, according to Peterson, had vanished while walking the couple’s dog on Christmas Eve in their Modesto neighborhood.

Prosecutors argued that Peterson killed his wife, who was due to give birth in four weeks, to escape marriage and impending fatherhood and be with his mistress. The search for Laci Peterson gained national attention, as did Scott Peterson’s subsequent trial.

The remainder of the 19 claims made in Peterson’s habeas petition were denied, 10 of them on their merits. The other eight claims were determined to be moot because they’d been addressed in Peterson’s direct appeal, which led to his death sentence being overturned.